Wealthy wary of grand giveaways

By Qian Yanfeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-10-20 15:33
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China boasts more billionaires than anywhere else in the world, according to the 2010 China Rich List.

The de facto who's who of Chinese business, which is compiled and analyzed by Hurun Report, puts the number of people with a wealth of $1 billion or more at "between 400 and 500", surpassing even the United States.

Wealthy wary of grand giveaways

Yet, the big question today is not about the size of their wallets but the size of their hearts - and whether China's superrich can measure up to Western philanthropic standards?

Although recent high-profile donations suggest the answer might be yes, some billionaires, or yiwan fuweng, still argue it is their duty to amass more money for themselves before they give it away to others.

About 50 of the country's wealthiest were used as a litmus test of China's generosity on Sept 29, when American billionaire philanthropists Bill Gates and Warren Buffett hosted a charity dinner in Beijing.Wealthy wary of grand giveaways

Before arriving, the duo had successfully convinced 40 US billionaires to donate at least half of their wealth - as much as $125 billion - under the Giving Pledge Campaign launched in June.

Despite widespread media speculation that some Chinese tycoons avoided the Beijing dinner because they feared being pressured to donate, Gates and Buffett said in a news conference afterward that more than two-thirds of those who were invited attended.

In fact, they went on to tell reporters that wealthy Chinese have "no reluctance" in talking about philanthropy. "I was amazed, really, at how similar the questions and discussions and all that was to the dinners we had in the US," Buffett told the New York Times after returning stateside. "The same motivations tend to exist. The mechanism for manifesting those motivations may differ from country to country."

Chen Guangbiao, chairman of Jiangsu Huangpu Renewable Resources Utilization, was the first in China to respond to the philanthropic call sent out by Gates and Buffett this year.

In an open letter to the pair posted on his company's website on Sept 5, Chen, who is 406th on the latest China Rich List, pledged that every penny of his fortune - approximately 5 billion yuan ($752 million) - will go to charity after his death.

He was followed by Feng Jun, president of Beijing Aigo Digital Technology, who pledged to donate everything to worthy causes before he dies.

Sharing the wealth

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All-out donation is nothing new in China. In April this year, Yu Pengnian, an 88-year-old hotelier and real estate entrepreneur in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, gave 8.2 billion yuan in assets to a charitable foundation he set up.

Yet, such cases are still rare in a country where the elite has arisen almost entirely from nothing over the last 30 years. In China, philanthropy still takes a back seat to the pursuit of wealth.

Many Chinese entrepreneurs, including Zong Qinghou, chairman and chief executive of China's leading beverage maker, Wahaha Group, and No 1 on this year's Hurun Report rich list, openly argue that accumulating larger fortunes is more important, as it helps raise the country's employment rate and fosters economic growth.

"Although China ranks as the world's largest luxury market, among many other areas, philanthropy is still a young sector here," said Deng Guosheng, deputy director of Tsinghua University's Non-Governmental Organization Research Center.

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